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Delhi Slum Demolition: Key Info Entitling Rehabilitation Not Given to High Court

The demolition had left many daily-wage workers and domestic helps homeless even as Delhi’s biting cold approached.

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The Delhi High Court was not provided all the information regarding the slum colony in the capital city’s Sundar Nagar area, before the court allowed its demolition on 22 November last year, The Quint has learnt. 

According to a response to a question by Delhi MLA Bhavna Gaur in the Assembly on 15 December 2023, the jhuggi jhopri (JJ) cluster no. 12 situated near DPS Mathura Road in south Delhi is mentioned in the list of 675 recognised slums and existed before 1 January 2006. This meant that the slum could not have been demolished without making alternate arrangements for its residents, as per a policy implemented in 2017.

However, this key information was not provided to the court by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) – the nodal body tasked with removing unauthorised clusters and rehabilitating its dwellers. 

The DUSIB functions under the Delhi government's Department of Urban Development. A copy of the response provided by the DUSIB to MLA Gaur’s question has been accessed by The Quint.

The demolition had left many daily-wage workers and domestic helps homeless even as Delhi’s biting cold approached.

A demolition drive being carried out in Sunder Nagar area in south Delhi on 21 November 2023.

(Image: PTI)

A day after the high court order, the slum – housing at least 212 families – was razed to the ground by the Land & Development Office (L&DO) which comes under the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. This had left many people – including daily-wage workers and domestic helps – homeless even as Delhi’s biting cold approached.  

The Quint has reached out to the DUSIB and the L&DO with relevant questions. The article will be updated as and when they respond.  

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'Slum Existed Before 2006 But Our Counsel Didn't Mention This in Court': DUSIB

Weeks after the demolition of the basti, Gaur asked whether the DUSIB provided all the information to the Delhi High Court regarding the slum before it was demolished. In response to the question, the DUSIB said: 

“According to the record, the Rehabilitation Branch stated that the concerned cluster was mentioned in the list of 675 recognised bastis, which existed before 1 January 2006. But the affidavit submitted in the Delhi High Court by Advocate Parvinder Chauhan (the DUSIB’s counsel) did not mention this. Hence, a show-cause notice was issued to him on 14 December 2023.” 

The Delhi High Court, on 22 November 2023, had dismissed a plea against its February 2019 order which had affirmed that the concerned basti did not exist before the year 2006, and hence its residents are not protected under the Delhi Slum & JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015.

This had paved the way for the slum to be razed without providing an alternate arrangement to its residents.

The policy, which was implemented in December 2017, aims to “house the poor in permanent and humane manner, and at the same time, clear lands for specific public projects and roads.” According to the policy, JJ bastis, which existed before 1 January 2006, shall not be removed without providing them alternate housing. And those slums that came up after the cut-off date of 1 January 2015 could be removed without providing its dwellers with alternate housing.

Besides, it states that the residents will have to show one of the following documents to be eligible for rehabilitation – passport, ration card with photograph, electricity bill, driving license, ID Card issued be state/Central government, among other documents.

For implementing this policy, the DUSIB was appointed as the nodal agency.  

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'Court Relied on Satellite Images to Decide If Slum Dwellers Were Eligible for Rehabilitation'

A Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed before the Supreme Court on 28 December 2023 pointed out that the Delhi High Court in its 2019 order had “erroneously disregarded the stipulations” outlined in the Delhi Slum & JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015 and “incorrectly concluded that the petitioners are ineligible for rehabilitation.” 

The petitioners in the case are the residents of the said JJ cluster in Sundar Nagar area. They work as auto-rickshaw drivers, house helpers, janitors, ragpickers, and other such persons whose existence is necessary for the functioning of society but, unfortunately, they live on the fringes. 

In the petition, they argued that the said JJ cluster is in the list of 675 recognised bastis which have been identified for protection by the DUSIB. They challenged the February 2019 order of the Delhi High Court (which had denied them rehabilitation) saying: 

  • The court required the slum dwellers to show proof of residence before 2006 instead of 2015, which is the cut off year as per the 2017 policy.

  • The court relied on satellite images (Google Earth) to determine if the slum existed before 2006 or not, even when they were markedly pixelated and of inferior quality.

  • The court erred in its decision to discredit ration cards, voter ID cards, driving licenses, caste certificates, school certificates, birth and death certificates on the ground of the non-submission of electricity bills predating 2006.

  • The court order overlooks a 2011 judgment by the Delhi High Court, which in a separate case, had documented the existence of the said basti.

  • The petitioner Ram Pal’s father has been living in the said slum since the 1980s and has ration cards dating back to 1982.

A writ petition (Jamia Arabia Nizamiya Welfare Educational Society v. Delhi Wakf Board) was filed in 1984 for the removal of encroachments on the land in question. Hence, it is on judicial record that the said JJ cluster existed before 2006, the petitioners have argued. 

The demolition had left many daily-wage workers and domestic helps homeless even as Delhi’s biting cold approached.

Affected families with their belongings after a demolition drive razed a slum colony to the ground in Delhi on 23 November 2023. 

(Image: PTI)

“The manner in which demolition has been done by the L&DO is itself a telling and grim expression of a grave human rights violation,” the petition stated. 

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Slum Dwellers Demand Rehabilitation, Compensation in Petition

The Delhi High Court on 22 November 2023, relying on its previous order dated 18 February 2019, decided not to put a stay on the demolition drive in the slum, asserting that it did not exist before the cut-off date of 1 January 2006. While dismissing the plea to put a stay on the demolition, it noted: 

“...if the appellants could get an election card, bank accounts, Aadhaar card, they could have also got the electricity connection to the dwelling.” 

The court did not accept the petitioner’s plea that companies started giving electricity connections only in the year 2008 after privatisation of electricity distribution.

It also observed that the petition to review its 2019 order came “after more than four years” and refused to entertain it, saying the petitioners “were sitting pretty for the last four years” and approached the court only after the order for demolition was given.

Responding to this, the petitioners, in the SLP, stated: 

“Contrary to the court order dated 22 November 2023, the petitioners have not been ‘sitting pretty for last four years’; instead, they endure a hand-to-mouth existence... The circumstances of the economically disadvantaged or marginalised persons cannot be equated with the affluent, who possess both information and the means to secure the best legal assistance.” 

It is noteworthy that during the hearing on 22 November 2023, the DUSIB had submitted in court that it can initiate the process of removal, relocation, or rehabilitation only after a request and payment for the requisite charges have been made by the land-owning agency. The nodal agency submitted: 

“However, currently, no request has been received... It is pertinent to mention here that, even as per the aforesaid policy, the JJ basti must have come up before 1 January 2006. However, there is nothing on the records of the instant case to indicate that alleged JJ cluster was in existence prior to 1 January 2006.” 

In the SLP, the petitioners have demanded that the 2019 Delhi High Court order be stayed, the DUSIB to rehabilitate the slum residents, and the Urban Development Ministry to provide an interim compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the petitioners. However, the Supreme Court dismissed this plea as withdrawn as the counsel for the petitioners said it will be presented again before the Delhi High Court.

Meanwhile, another SLP filed on 28 November 2023 challenges the exemption given by Commission for Air Quality Management to the L&DO to carry out the demolition even when stage III of its Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP III) was implemented across New Delhi owing to the high levels of air pollution.

As per the GRAP III order, a “strict ban on construction and demolition activities in the entire NCR” was enforced on 2 November last year. This plea was admitted by the apex court and the matter was last heard on 2 February.

More on this here: 'Why the Tearing Hurry?' SC to Hear Plea Against Demolition in Nizamuddin Basti

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